Thirty-one million construction positions are expected to be left vacant this year due to the retirement plans of the Baby Boomer and Gen X populations. Many construction firms say it will continue to become harder to recruit and hire qualified workers in the future. It’s becoming apparent that qualified contractors are a rare, but highly-demanded commodity.
Being a member of a large family with a dad who knew how to fix or build practically anything, Pastor John Oostdyk “apprenticed” on many household projects throughout his adolescent years. On staff at Cornerstone Christian Church in Wyckoff, John helped to establish and is the Executive Director of Servant’s Heart, a volunteer group that serves organizations in need by helping with remodeling and renovations.
“We come alongside individuals and organizations that are doing good work within our communities, says John. “The backbone of what we do is creating relationships. When we align with an organization’s vision and observe their success, we want to help them grow.”
As an independent 501(c)3 organization, Servant’s Heart primarily serves non-profit houses of worship, homeless shelters, food pantries, community centers, and drug rehabilitation centers. Throughout the year, approximately 300 volunteers participate, and the organization has grown to six staff members.
“Last year we did 60 projects more than half were in Paterson,” says John. “We are also doing work in Newark, Passaic, and Hawthorne, and have completed over 300 jobs since our conception.”
Their scope of work includes repair and remodeling of bathrooms, kitchens, office space, classroom space and multi-purpose rooms. They also have managed disaster recovery projects including renovations to buildings damaged by fire or flooding. Over the years, mission trips have been arranged to provide aid to organizations struck by Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans and the northeast’s Hurricane Sandy. Thanks to these types of trips, the Servant’s Heart community extends to Puerto Rico, New Orleans, Haiti, and Juarez, Mexico as well.
They help the organization create a construction plan and sometimes work alongside paid trades professionals as general contractors. This helps keep the project moving along with significant cost savings and allows the organization to stretch their budget and achieve their goals.
“At first, we took on very small projects. Now, we are taking on $1.3-$2m projects. As our projects have grown in scale and complexity, we find that it is extremely important to retain the skills of competent craftsmen,” says John. “Thankfully, our own volunteers are not only highly skilled, but many are professional contractors as well.”
“We have always treasured teaching and helping people to become more competent. But it is hard to teach when you are on a job because of time limitations. It is not sustainable to teach effectively in the “on-the-job” environment.”
This is what led the organization to begin developing a mentorship and training program in order to train up new craftsman.
“We needed space to teach, start-up money, tools, curriculum, and instructors. As soon as we got a few of these things lined up, we knew God was telling us to move forward,” says John.
The Workmanship Training and Mentorship Program was launched in September, 2019 in 5,000 square feet of space in a Paterson industrial building. The program was able to procure an inventory of brand-new tools at a significant discount, had a line-up of committed instructors ready to teach. Since many instructors are trades professionals, they were asked how they would teach an apprentice to learn their skills. With that input, Servant’s Heart developed a new curriculum outlining the Critical Path Method of building (CPM) which outlines the foundational processes of construction. This includes the role of each professional on a job site--from architect to plumber--common procedures, and construction knowledge that will lend a sense of confidence and competence to a new apprentice.
Sessions begin at 6:45 p.m. with a bit of fun--The $5 Challenge. A $5 bill is laid on the table and is awarded to the student who can answer the most questions from the last week’s session.
“Show and Tell” allows instructors with a teaching assistant to demonstrate and explain a construction project in front of the students. It combines instruction with a visual component so that students can actually see the process of the creation, narrated by the instructor. Following Show and Tell, students get the opportunity to practice the same process “hands-on” with the instructors supervising, answering questions, and offering guidance. “We need a high ratio of help because of all the personal instruction,” says John.
Masonry, framing, plumbing, electric, drywall, trim, door and window installation, roofing, siding, decking, and stairs are all introduced to students, and an HVAC component is currently under development.
Rather than building singular practice pieces and then disposing of them or tearing them down, students learn their skills alongside their mentors by constructing storage sheds which are then sold to support the program.
“We advertise our school throughout our relationship network and the organizations that we help,” says John. “We want to engage students in urban areas such as Paterson, Passaic, and Newark. Moving forward, we would love to partner with inner-city high schools that have trades programs.”
Students may also participate in First Aid, CPR training, and OSHA-10 training. Instructors make a point to help develop soft skills like timeliness, honesty, and integrity. They emphasize the satisfaction of a job well done and the beauty of having pride in your work.
The Training and Mentorship Program provides an opportunity for young adults to see various types of trades and decide what appeals to them. Not all decide to continue in a trade, but all gain valuable skills that they can use on their own. Students are encouraged to use their new-found skills to give back and volunteer within the program. “One of our students had been out of work for a number of years,” says John, “he now has a job in the trades.”
Years of education, training, and experience are what create a master tradesperson, but an instructional program such as this can help get an ambitious student on his or her way. In the future, Servant’s Heart may explore a partnership with an accredited organization, but for now, it is a mentorship program. Students gain referrals, leads, and contacts to further expand their possibilities. The contractors who provide instruction may very well find their next apprentice through the process as well.
Upon successful completion of the course, students earn their tool belts, tools, work boots, hardhat, safety goggles, and gloves. If they get a job within the industry, they may even be supported with additional tools or equipment required in order to show up prepared on their first day of work.
“This area of the country is perfect for this type of program, says John. “we have the market demand for construction, the supply of potential job candidates, the mentorship and desire for qualified job candidates by our contractors, and the hope that our students will come and ‘give back.’ It’s the perfect cycle.”
Email Info@servantsheartnj.org for skilled professionals or handyman for volunteer opportunities.